A step into the future
Cabin Systems looks for ubiquity in electronic frills
BY ALLEGRA BERRIAN
Thanks to the Cabin Systems team, airline passengers soon will be able to select and watch movies on the screen in front of their seats on 737s and 757s, just as they can on the 747 and 777. They may even some day be able to surf the net, play video games or buy a chess set on eBay.
Randy Parrott, project manager responsible for installation of a key new in-flight entertainment system, is helping to bring the latest technology to single-aisle airplanes. "We'll be able to fit products from multiple suppliers onto our airplanes, like a plug-and-play operation," Parrott said.
Parrott served on the Cabin Systems Feature Strategy team, a group that determines which in-flight entertainment systems are appropriate for installation on Boeing airplanes. He also helped develop "standard select wiring" concepts, that is, a standard wiring installation for the 737 and 757 that would accommodate in-seat audio, in-seat video, overhead video and Internet connectivity.
Because the airlines use cabin systems to differentiate themselves from other airlines, each new customer airplane requires a substantial amount of engineering and integration.
These systems make up more than half the electronics on a twin-aisle airplane, weigh more than two tons, contain more than a million lines of code and require as many as 2,400 line replaceable units. They can cost more than $3 million per airplane—and last about five years before they become outdated.
The standard wiring concept that Parrott designed for single-aisle airplanes secured a deal with a major international supplier of inflight entertainment equipment. For this and other achievements, Parrott's lead, Don Lee, nominated him for a "Contributor to Technical Excellence" Award. These awards, which the Ed Wells Initiative sponsors, allow the engineers and technical employees represented by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace to recognize the exceptional performance of their peers.
A new strategy
Parrott, who is now the project manager coordinating the technical evaluation of one new system, points out that his accomplishments are "just part of the bigger picture. Cabin Systems has broken new ground in risk management on new technology systems."
Anticipating a heavy consumer demand for high-tech products in flight, two years ago the Cabin Systems Technology Center and Commercial Airplanes Supplier Management and Procurement began experimenting with a new way to work with suppliers of these systems.
To help the suppliers adapt their systems to the airplane design requirements, Boeing now can enter a Technical Service Agreement with each supplier. Under these agreements, the Cabin Systems Technology Center works as a consultant to the suppliers, defining requirements and evaluating the technology for compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations before offering the agreements to the customers.
"In the old model we would wait for a customer introduction to do these reviews," said Sean Sullivan, manager of the Cabin Systems Technology Centers in Everett and Renton, Wash. This process, done at Boeing expense, often resulted in expensive production delays.
"With the TSA, we get to work with the supplier during the development phase," Sullivan said. "When we're done we're ready to put it in the [new aircraft configuration] catalog. Plus, the product is compliant with our airplane requirements and we understand exactly what functionality can be promised to the airline customer."
Because the TSA calls for the supplier to compensate Boeing for the time its engineers spend conducting preliminary and critical design reviews, it saves the company money.
The TSA approach has proved highly successful for incorporating electronic entertainment systems in twin-aisle models.
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